September 18, 2005

Did Christ Die for those who Perished in the OT?

Steve Costly, a friend of mine, wrote the following. He is addressing the question that some Calvinists raise with respect to Christ's death and those who perished in the time of the Old Testament. Did Christ die for those already in hell when he died? Here's his post:
The question is often asked by high Calvinists, "did Christ die for the sinners who went to hell before His crucifixion?" An example might be Cain or Nimrod or Old King Ahab or Judas for crying out loud.

Well, did Christ bear the penalty (appropos of your quote from the Job sermon, David) due to all poor sinners? If yes, then why would it exclude the OT sinners? Of course, the high Calvinist is going to say that the answer is obviously no, for those folks were already in hell and what's the use? But remember that in some way the benefits of Christ's atonement are applied retrospectively for the OT saints, and they were already in heaven. "Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world...." WCF VIII. vi. And add to this that the death of Christ purchased benefits for the non-elect, viz., the postponement of wrath (see Dabney), then why could we not answer the high Calvinist confidently? Of course Christ died for those poor sinners just like he did for me and you.

I would add a qualification to Steve's words in the last sentence so that no one would misconstrue what is being said. The last sentence has the sense of: "Of course Christ died for those poor sinners just like he did for me and you, in terms of intending his death as a sufficient provision for the forgiveness of the sins of all mankind."

Curt Daniel says this in his The History and Theology of Calvinism:
...there is the argument, "Christ did not die for those already in Hell. Thus, He did not die for all men." Actually, this is a weak argument and should not be used. Norman Douty counters it effectively by turning it around. If Christ did not die for those already in Hell because their destiny had been reached, then He could not have died for those already in Heaven either. But if so, then they must have gone to Heaven other than through the blood of Christ, which is impossible. The truth lies between these arguments. Christ died in such a way that those before and after His atonement were saved because of it. Those who went to Heaven before Calvary were saved on the basis of what would later happen. This does not of itself deny that in some sense Christ died for those already in Hell. While on Earth, they could have been saved had they too believed in the still future atonement.
Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Springfield, IL: Good Books, 2003), 370.

Richard Baxter replies to the Crimination:
C. They cast that absurdity on Christ, as to die for those that were in Hell when he was dying for them, and to make a medicine for the dead and desperate.

B. 1. As you would state the supposition, it would be as liable to your charge of absurdity, to say, That he died for them that were long ago pardoned and saved, and to purchase Heaven for them that had possession of it long before. 2. But when we speak of Christ's Death as a sacrifice for the Sins of all the World, we mean no more, but that in esse cognito & volito, the undertaking was so far for all, as that all should have the conditional Promise or Gift of Life by the Merits of it. And so as all that were saved before Christ's Death, had actual Salvation by it before-hand, as undertaken; so all that perished had a Gift of conditional Pardon and Salvation, and perished for refusing it. But at the time when Christ was dying, we say that he was not then intending to offer the second Edition of his Covenant, either to those in Hell or in Heaven: But only that he purposed to do what he from the beginning undertook, for the undertaken ends.
Richard Baxter, Catholick Theology (London: Printed by Robert White, for Nevill Simmons at the Princes Arms in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1675), II.67. I have modernized some of the English.

See also Baxter on Christ's Death for Those Already in Hell.

1 comment:

Steve Costley said...

Thank you Tony. I endorse the qualification you added. As I've said before, your blog (specifically it's content, quality, and style) and others like it are what the blogosphere was made for. Keep up the good work.